Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” are in trouble. In his quest to rid the world of regret and pain, Holden Radcliffe and his LMD Aida built the Framework, a virtual world not unlike “The Matrix.” As the show’s “LMD” storyline drew to a close, Coulson, May, Mack, Fitz and Jeffrey Mace found themselves unwitting participants in Radcliffe’s grand experiment. Now, Daisy and Simmons are entering the Framework themselves in an effort to save their friends from physical death.
When Daisy and Simmons arrived in the Framework, they encountered an alternate reality where Hydra has taken over. What’s worse, May seems to be working from them. If that wasn’t bad enough, Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward has returned and — for all appearances — Simmons is dead. Speaking to CBR, executive producer Jed Whedon teased life inside this “What If” world of the Framework, including Fitz’s new path, Simmons’ fate and whether or not Radcliffe is still feeling positive about his decision to create this virtual reality. Additionally, Whedon addressed whether or not we’ll see more “S.H.I.E.L.D.” alums pop up in the Framework.
CBR: Was the goal always to bring Grant Ward back, or was his return more of an organic storytelling decision?
Jed Whedon: Well, we knew we were getting to this sort of “What If” world, and so — when you’re talking about what to do in a “What If” world — one answer presents itself pretty quickly, and that’s Grant Ward. We thought it was a good way to bring him back and not negate stories we had told with him, which we felt we wanted to honor and not undercut. But this is a way that we could bring him back and tell more stories in a fresh way.
Will we see any other “S.H.I.E.L.D.” alums in the Framework?
I don’t know! That’s a really good question. I’m wondering the same thing. I will say that I think our fans will enjoy this pod and will be rewarded for sticking with us for so long.
Radcliffe hyped up the Framework as a way to escape death. How’s that working out for him?
I think things have turned in a way he didn’t expect. He made the mistake of saying to Aida that he really believes there was no difference, and we’ll see if that proves true even when we find him in the Framework. Is he happy with how things turned out? Because he seemed pretty positive. Is he still positive? Whether or not he still feels that way, we’ll see.
Radcliffe’s way of blurring the line between life and death with technology has shades of Arnim Zola. What are the odds we could see that character again, especially now that Hydra has apparently been restored?
Well, that’s more of a Marvel question than a Jed Whedon question, but it’s the Famework. I think anything goes, so we’ll see.
Is May’s presence in the Hydra-run Triskelion exactly what it looks like?
Well, I mean, it didn’t look like she was being held prisoner there, and it also didn’t look like that was her first time. It didn’t look like she was there for a meeting, a “get to know you” meeting. It looked like she was pretty comfortable. Take from that what you will, but it does look like she’s feeling on top of the world in that spot.
Recently, we’ve learned a bit more about Fitz’s background. Will that continue into this third story arc?
We’ve learned a little bit about all our people this year, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The idea with the Framework is to explore sort of the nature of identity and of reality. Is your reality and your identity made up of your experiences and your perception, or is there sort of inherent true you? A soul, as Mack would say. Or are you made up of your regrets and your experiences? One of the reasons we’ve been getting into our characters a little bit more is so that we can see how they react in this new reality. We’ll definitely be doing that with Fitz.
In the closing sequence, we see Fitz help a mystery woman out of his limo. Can you tell us if this character a product of the Framework or a piece of Fitz’s past?
I can’t say much about that person, other than to say I don’t think it’s Jemma Simmons. That’s a wait and see right there, but it definitely feels like he’s not damaged by the loss of Simmons in any way. It seems like he’s on top of the world as well.
Just before she entered the Framework, Simmons said that dying in the virtual world means dying in the real world. Considering that all we saw was her grave in the closing montage, should we be worried for her?
I think you can be worried! I think that, if we were going to write her out of the show, it would not be off-screen because we love her so, so much. I think she will have to overcome her own childhood tribulations in the Framework, and it looks like they’ll be a little bit harder than Daisy’s. Daisy woke up in a warm tub; I have a feeling that’s not where Simmons will find herself.
Pretty much all of our main characters are inside the Framework as we move into this third arc. Will we still get to see what Aida is up to in the real world?
Yes. We will spend some time in the Framework, but we will also eventually pop outside and sort of get a sense of what’s happening in the real world as they’re in there.
Both the “Ghost Rider” and “LMD” storylines have explored different themes. What would you say is the central idea of this last arc?
It’s all of a piece. We started with Ghost Rider, who has this weight on his shoulders, this burden that he carries, this need for vengeance. It was a reflection of Daisy, who — as he says — is serving penance, someone who is definitely defined by a past experience and lives with a regret she can’t seem to overcome. Then we moved into the “LMD” pod, and we started with May exploring a little bit of the question of “What defines me? Where do I end and my body begin? What does it mean to have a body replaced? Am I my programming?” and more questions about identity. Moving into the last pod, it’s sort of all those questions exploding into a whole new world of “Am I defined by my past actions, or am I defined by my memories or my regrets, or is there a true nature that will always stay with me no matter what I go through?” So that’s the question we’re going to explore in this last pod. What makes you you?
Can you talk a little about how you and the other writers decided to bring Hydra back in such a major way?
Again, this pod is about a reflection of our characters, and Hydra really represents the antithesis of S.H.I.E.L.D. We told a lot of Hydra stories, and it’s nothing new to our audience to see Hydra, but the thing that it does do right away is paint a picture: things are different. Everybody knows by now Hydra’s agenda and Hydra’s modus operandi, so seeing that symbol up there paints a very quick picture for our audience that things will not be the way they are in the real world. So we’re using that iconic symbol of Hydra as this opposite of S.H.I.E.L.D. to show that this world has been turned on its head.
Airing Tuesdays at 10 pm ET/PT on ABC, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” stars Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Chloe Bennet as Daisy “Quake” Johnson, Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons, Henry Simmons as Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie and more.
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